Harrison Wright of Vandalia was the youngest participant in the Hannibal Cannibal race Saturday morning.
Harrison Wright is proving from an early age he has a knack for endurance running.
The 5-year-old Vandalia native participated in the Hannibal Cannibal race Saturday morning in America's Hometown alongside his parents, Brandon and Toni.
Together they ran the 5K race that began on North Main Street and continued on a route along Highway 79 capped by a trek up and down the infamous Lover's Leap.
Organizers believe Harrison was the youngest contestant in the 22nd edition of the annual event known to attract entrants of all ages.
Off to the races at the 22nd annual @CannibalRace in downtown Hannibal. pic.twitter.com/Dj6qxwCpLV— Courier-Post (@HCP_Sports) July 1, 2017
“He did the Fun Run last year, and he stepped up and thought he would do something bigger this year,” Brandon said of Harrison, the couple's only child.
“We decided we were all going to run as a family this year,” Toni explained.
At the age of three, Harrison first displayed his speed on a day his family won't soon forget. Unlike Saturday, when he earned cheers from the onlooking crowd for crossing the finish line, his first mad dash got him in a heap of trouble.
Harrison, who was at his grandparents' house a mile away from where his parents live, decided to run home — unannounced to everyone. Next thing you know, Harrison was fleeing the scene as his grandparents and aunt gave chase.
“I was too fast,” said Harrison, matter-of-factly, when telling the story Saturday. “I said I want to go to my house. Then, I went to it.”
It turns out that Harrison made it home before being caught. Sensing he would be disciplined, he actually kept running down the gravel road beyond the house before he was corralled.
“We knew at an early age that he could run,” Brandon said. “When he outran grandma and grandpa and his aunt for a mile and ran home, he got in pretty good trouble over that, but we knew he was fast.”
Upon that realization, the parents decided to enroll Harrison in a nearby youth running club.
“Since he's such a runner, we put him in a run club, the Little Bobcat Racers out of Bowling Green,” Toni said. “We go there every week over the summer.”
That training paid off Saturday morning, when Brandon and Toni encouraged their son along the Cannibal route and the family of three completed the race.
For Brandon and Toni, Saturday marked a return to the Cannibal. Toni ran the race for the first time last year, while Brandon has participated so many times he can't keep count.
“We run just to stay in shape and just to have fun,” Brandon said. “I've ran in St. Louis and Memphis a lot for the St. Jude run. For a local race, (the Cannibal) is really run well.”
The main difference between running in Hannibal versus Vandalia are the hills, the family said. Harrison called Lover's Leap the hardest part of the Cannibal journey.
“We told him there are hills, but now he understands what hills are,” Brandon said. “They're mountains here. There aren't many hills where we're from.”
“No, there's none,” Harrison corrected.
When asked about his favorite part of the Cannibal, Harrison gave a simple answer: “Winning. I hate to lose.”
“Well, we didn't win,” his father reminded.
“But we didn't lose either,” said mom, adding she was proud of her son and excited about his achievement.
Cannibal for all ages
A year ago, a Hannibal native was celebrated for taking part in the Cannibal on the other end of the age spectrum. The late Bob Richards, a longtime participant, walked at the 2016 event at the age of 100.
The Hannibal Regional Hospital Foundation, which hosts the race, awarded the first annual “Bob Richards Hannibal Cannibal Legacy Award” on Saturday morning before the race.
The first annual award was presented by Richard's family to Henry Sweets and Jack Whitaker, two close confidants of Richards who could be found walking alongside him as recently as last July at the Cannibal.
“Bob was a longtime supporter of the Cannibal,” race director Angie Wilcoxson said. “Last year, (Bob) did it and he was 100. We have a lot of people who have done it year after year, our big supporters, so it's just something that every year we can recognize one or two people who have shown that kind of support and dedication to the race.”